Researchers at UBC have developed a new tool that is revealing an “inequitable distribution of ‘healing’ green spaces” in several Vancouver neighbourhoods.
Green space is known to have many beneficial effects on our mental well-being; however, as UBC researchers point out, “we don’t have a systematic, location-specific method for assessing these qualities.”
That’s where the new local restorative nature (LRN) index comes in.
The LRN index is a tool created to evaluate the healing qualities of green space.
“The index assigns a score based on perceived sensory dimensions deemed important for mental health: ‘refuge,’ ‘wild nature’ and ‘diversity,'” a statement from UBC reads.
“We developed proxy indicators for these dimensions based on tree and shrub biomass and density, green canopy coverage, water features and the diversity of tree species and vegetation types present in any given area. These factors are associated with positive feelings and an easing of stress; they facilitate inward-directed, even ‘passive’ activities that are restorative, such as strolling in the park or quietly contemplating nature.”
So the higher a space scored the measurements, the more “revitalizing” it proved to be.
Here are the results from a UBC study, which identifies spaces in Vancouver that are in need of a restorative nature — results of which were recently published in Ambio.
Researchers found restorative green spaces were unevenly distributed across the city.
Neighbourhoods like Shaughnessy, Dunbar Southlands and West Point Grey scored high, but areas like downtown Vancouver and Strathcona did not.
“More importantly, we found that areas with the greatest need for restorative nature often have the least exposure to it,” a news release reads. “When we compared LRN scores in different neighbourhoods with their socioeconomic vulnerability, we noticed that more vulnerable neighbourhoods typically had lower LRN scores.”
Areas that were found to be more vulnerable and have a low LRN score included Strathcona, Downtown, West End, southern Sunset and Marpole.
This is unlike the northwest area of Vancouver, where there is a higher population of homeowners and where green space is more available.
“Urban planners may want to pay special attention to these neighbourhoods when developing greening aimed at improving mental well-being,” the release reads.
A “surprise” to researchers was that “there were areas with higher unemployment rates or lower financial resources that had more exposure to green spaces, and vice versa.”
“This is a puzzle we aim to explore further in future studies,” the statement added.
While Vancouver was the focus of this study, researchers said the LRN index can be adapted to any other urban landscape.